Who you gonna call?
If this is your first time reading this book, you can find previous chapters here:
- Read Chapter One here
- Read Chapter Two here
- Read Chapter Three here
- Read Chapter Four here
- Read Chapter Five here
- Read Chapter Six here
- Read Chapter Seven here
- Read Chapter Eight here
- Read Chapter Nine here
- Read Chapter Ten here
- Read Chapter Eleven here
- Read Chapter Twelve here
- Read Chapter Thirteen here
- Read Chapter Fourteen here
- Read Chapter Fifteen here
- Read Chapter Sixteen here
- Read Chapter Seventeen here
- Read Chapter Eighteen here
- Read Chapter Nineteen here
- Read Chapter Twenty here
- Read Chapter Twenty-One here
- Read Chapter Twenty-Two here
- Read Chapter Twenty-Three here
- Read Chapter Twenty-Four here
- Read Chapter Twenty-Five here
- Read Chapter Twenty-Six here
- Read Chapter Twenty-Seven here
- Read Chapter Twenty-Eight here
One in a Million – Chapter 29
Who Ya Gonna Call?
Police, fire, and emergency services showed up mere minutes after the apartment building snapped back to its original shape. The utility trucks arrived on their heels, and power was hit and miss on the block for the rest of the night as everyone tried to make sense of what the hell happened.
The apartment building was toast. Everything had shifted and stretched magically, but did not hold together for the return. Everyone had to be evacuated.
Burt, Linda, and Hazel stood off to the side and kept an eye out for people they knew. It took the better part of an hour for the fire department to start pulling people out of the unstable building, during which time Linda was a basket case.
The first people out of the building that they recognized was Turk, wrapped up in a blanket and a sheet. He was followed out by Rhonda on a gurney. They climbed into one of the ambulances and it presently left, backing all the way down the narrow street.
D.J. walked out on his own steam, shrugging off the firemen who were trying to help him. As EMTs surrounded him, Burt waved and D.J. managed to see it and nodded. He made an “OK” gesture with his thumb and forefinger and then they couldn’t see him anymore.
“What do you think that means?” Linda asked. “He’s okay, or everyone is okay?”
“No idea,” said Burt. “But if they’re all right, odds are pretty good everyone is.”
Even as he said it, another fireman brought Leslie out, covered in dust and coughing wildly.
“Leslie!” Linda screamed. “Over here!”
Leslie didn’t hear, and was loaded into an ambulance.
“Oh, screwit,” said Linda. “Come on!” She yanked Turk off the corner, vaulted over the barricade like she was running track in high school again, and got to the ambulance door just in time. “Wait! That’s my friend!”
“We’ve got to take her to St. Anthony’s for smoke inhalation,” said the EMT.
“We’ll go with her,” Burt said, boosting Linda into the ambulance before the tech could protest. He slammed the door shut behind them.
Leslie was wearing an oxygen mask. She sat up, saw Linda, and her eyes widened, and then she started crying. Linda hugged her close.
“Let’s go,” Burt said.
The other tech in the back with them was fiddling with the oxygen tank. “It’s all right, she’s not badly injured.”
“Is everyone all right?” asked Linda.
Leslie cut her eyes at the technician and mouthed “yes” before she said, “I can’t talk right now, I need to breathe.”
Linda sat back, visibly relieved. She mouthed “Holly?” to Leslie.
Leslie nodded and made a “thumbs up” gesture.
Linda grabbed Turk’s hand and squeezed it tight, all the way to the hospital.
Hazel watched Burt and Linda scamper into the danger zone and sighed. Young love. Or something like it. And while making out with Leslie was fun, she knew there was no future in it. In fact, it was kinda hard to make long term plans when one was the personal assistant to a vampire. And, Hazel added, bobbing her head guiltily, kinda addicted to the vampire’s feeding practices, too. Would Leslie still have made out with Hazel with the overbite who played second clarinet in high school band? Probably not.
So, she waited patiently for Jane to emerge from the wreak of the building and wondered idly what was taking so long. D.J. got out, and way ahead of her, too. It’s not as if there was anything that could possibly harm Jane…
And that’s when she saw the firemen bringing someone out, covered in a bloody sheet. Sticking up out of the sheet was metal strut about two feet long. The way it sat on the stretcher made it clear that the strut had passed straight through the person with the jet black hair and the black jacket…
Hazel took off, headed straight for the ambulance, not daring to breathe. She wasn’t as nimble as Linda and got tripped up in the barricades. By the time she got to the ambulance, the doors were closed.
“Please,” she said, “that’s my friend in there!”
The EMT, a young Hispanic man with a shaved head, looked at her with genuine compassion and sorrow. “I’m very sorry, Miss. She’s gone.”
Hazel’s head felt disconnected from her neck. She sat down on the curb and the EMT quickly put an arm around her along with a blanket. “Where are they taking her?” She asked.
“St. Anthony’s hospital. They’ll notify the next of kin.”
Hazel stood up. “She’s not…okay, thank you.” She walked around the ambulance and then broke into a run. She could hear the EMT calling after her, but he didn’t give chase.
At the corner, there was a taxi waiting. Hazel had called it. “There you are,” the old, bearded man with the indeterminate Middle Eastern accent said. “I think you not show up.”
“Ahmet, you know me better than that,” said Hazel. She peeled a hundred dollar bill out of her emergency fund and said, “Here you go. St. Anthony’s hospital. There’s another one at the end of the trip.”
“You are the boss of me,” said Ahmet happily. He took off, driving the taxi with the speed and dexterity of a crack-addled howler monkey.
Larry and Holly had no sooner stepped out of the open manhole cover than someone rounded the corner and said, “Hey! You can’t be here! Get back behind the barrier! It’s not safe!”
Cops and firemen ushered them past the creaking building, firing questions at them. “Were you inside? Who’s with you? Do you live here?”
Holly did all of the talking. They were visiting Rhonda Halsey, but the elevator wasn’t working. They started up the stairs, and had only made it to the landing when the building started to shake and shimmy. After it was over, they climbed out of the window onto the fire escape and made their way down from there.
Once the story was established, it was easy to ask questions. What happened? Is everyone all right? Where’s Rhonda? Once they found out what hospital everyone was being taken to, it was all they could do to fake being dazed and shocked long enough to slip away undetected.
They hadn’t walked far when Larry said, “We’ve got to go to the Radcliffe.”
Larry nodded. “It’s time for Stercutus to return to his hallowed halls.”
Holly made a face. “Yeah.”
Larry was clearly in pain, but they managed to walk back to his van and quietly roll down the hill before starting it up. Only after they turned the corner did Holly start swearing. It was a delayed reaction, and it created a pile-up of epithets, blasphemy, and invective that came tumbling out of her, unbidden, and when it was over, Larry handed her a paper napkin.
Holly daubed her upper lip and said, “Thank you, Honey, I needed that.”
Larry said nothing and turned down 19th Street, heading for the Radcliffe as fast as the traffic would allow. Stercutus said nothing, either, apparently conserving energy.
Holly studied Larry’s face in profile. She finally asked, “Stercutus, did it work?”
“Aye,” said Larry.
“You’ve got your power back, then?”
“Enough of it,” came the terse reply. Larry glanced at her. “Holly, I’ll explain it later. Right now, we’ve just got to get to…”
“Fine. Go. Drive.” Holly sat back, disgruntled.
Larry swung into the Radcliffe Hotel’s new front entrance that had recently been rebuilt with the insurance money paid out following the disaster at MagicCon. He jerked the van to a stop and said, “Wait here.”
Holly didn’t argue.
Larry leapt out of the van and ran inside, took a hard left, and headed straight for the public restrooms. There was an instant of panic as he hit the door and everything came roaring back on him as a vivid sense memory. He scrambled into the last stall and deposited himself on the toilet.
It didn’t take long. Stercutus was out. He sat on the toilet, legs splayed out, sweaty and exhausted, and started laughing. “What a night,” said Larry.
I agree, said Stercutus.
Larry jumped. “Oh God, are you in my head, now?”
Not in the way you think, Larry Croft. You and I will always have a connection. It will be strongest the closer you are to this place. My temple.
“So, you’ll honor your end of the bargain?”
You saved me, Larry Croft. I still have my sphere of influence, thanks to you. And enough energy to remain in my godstate for some time.
“I meant to ask; how did you go from god of manure to a trickster god?”
That I owe all to you, Larry Croft.
“Me? What did I do?”
You may not have remembered what you did when we were joined, but that is not my doing. That is yours. I was the instrument, but all of the inspiration to play came from you. As such, I am only the tricker god of the Radcliffe Hotel, but even that is enough to sustain me. As long as they believe.
“Okay, wow,” said Larry. “I’m glad it all worked out for you, man.” He paused. “Thank you, Stercutus.”
For what, Larry Croft?
“This,” he nodded to his body. “Holly. Everything. I wouldn’t be who I am today without your interference.”
Larry Croft, you could have been anyone you wanted to be. Identity is always chosen by man. The gods have nothing to do with it. Now, go be who you really are.
“Can we…talk from time to time?”
Tell you what: you talk. I’ll listen.
Larry frowned. “Isn’t that from a movie?”
Sorry. Oh, God was on Stars the other night. Sure, come visit me whenever you like.
Larry stood up and flushed. “You’re pretty funny, Stercutus.”
Larry came bounding out of the hotel, all smiles. “So, St. Anthony’s?”
“As quick as you can get there,” Holly agreed.
The van lurched into late night traffic.
“It’s you in there, right, Larry?” Holly asked.
“All me,” he said. He was still grinning.
“You seem pretty happy for a guy who was just possessed.”
Larry cocked his head and squinted one eye. “Well, I was able to prove to you that I’m not crazy, deal with my former possession, curtail any future possession by said god, save my friend’s life, and keep Rhonda and her apartment from being blown up.” The grin returned. “I’d say this was one of the best nights of my life! And you were there to witness all of it! Finally!”
“What do you mean, ‘finally?’”
“Before, when I was Stercutus, you and I didn’t run into each other until it was all over with. So, how could I have told you about anything I got up to without you calling bullshit on it?
“Well, there were all those wild stories afterward,” she pointed out.
“Maybe so, but I couldn’t say the thing that I wanted to say to you. Not then. I just couldn’t. The second time, out in Tempe, you were hearing it from me and the other three doofuses—doofusesses…what’s the plural for ‘doofus?’”
“doofi?” she suggested.
“Anyway, it was more down to earth, but it was still a story after the fact.”
“Okay,” said Holly. She had no idea where he was going with this.
“Finally, you got to see me in action. Stercutus did most of the heavy lifting, of course, but we had an adventure, with real danger and cool magic going on and…” He stopped. She was staring at him, horrified. “Okay, maybe it wasn’t so cool once we were in the thick of it. But the point is this: I know you’ve been looking for that spark in me ever since we first met. I’m telling you right now: it’s in here.” He tapped his chest. “I can be the guy you want me to be. I am the guy you thought I was.”
Holly smiled and sat back in her seat. The hospital was up ahead. There was a lot of stuff to talk about. This conversation would have to wait.